Does the Bible teach personal responsibility? Weeks ago I was challenged by a reader that seemed to suggest all of my talk about the biblical teaching of personal responsibility was baseless. He stated, “You talk a lot about personal responsibility. Does Christ ever talk about personal responsibility?”
On the surface the claim has an air of truth to it. If you searched in your Bible’s you will not find the phrase “personal responsibility,” or even a similar phrase like “self-governance.” Of course, there are other phrases, terms, concepts or ideas that you won’t find in your Bible’s expressed in the language of today. Here are a few examples: trinity, theonomy, dominion mandate (i.e., cultural mandate), reconstruction, reformation, dinosaur, etc. Jesus didn’t mention any of those by name. Does that mean they are not taught in the Bible?
For some, you may be wondering, why I am equating “Did Jesus say?” with “Does the Bible teach?” I will grant the two do not necessarily coincide. But based on the conversation we had together my reader’s chief concern was that I was leaning heavily on tradition and not on biblical precepts. This in spite of the fact that we both were citing various texts to support our position.
There are those that will see the Christian faith in light of the “red letter” editions of the Bible. In other words, “If Jesus didn’t specifically state it, then it doesn’t apply.” Some who want to promote a homosexual lifestyle or the redefining of marriage will often use such arguments. In order to affirm what they believe is the essence of the Christian faith, they will say “Jesus didn’t specifically address it, and so it is not a real issue.”
There are a lot of things that Jesus didn’t do (he didn’t own a house, run a business, or get married), and there are a lot of things that Jesus did not specifically address (homosexuality, bestiality, incest, abortion, etc.), but that does not mean that He disproved of the former and approved of the latter. But those sort of things are spoken of directly or indirectly in the rest of Scripture.
I should note that I am not accusing the individual who raised the issue with me is saying that “only if Jesus says it, then I will believe it.” I do not know his position on any of those specific issues, but I am using his challenge as a stepping stone of sorts to address the area of concern he did raise in regards to personal responsibility as a biblical teaching coming from our Lord.
The Covenantal Lord…
Christ Jesus is Lord of both covenants; what are often referred to as Old and New. He is the fulfillment of what the Old pointed to, being the perfecter of the New (cf. Heb 8.8-13; 9.11-15). Jesus is the epitome of grace and truth and righteousness, being the exact imprint of the Holy image of the invisible God, in whom the fullness therein dwells (see John 1.1-18; Heb 1.1-3; Col 1.15-19). And it was the Law-Word of God that Jesus confirmed, upheld, and obeyed on all points (Matt 5.17-19), of which all person’s of faith in Him are likewise called to do (Rom 3.21-33). Meaning what? That what was taught in the Old Testament, regardless of whether or not Jesus specifically mentioned it, still holds.1
Answering the Objection…
Now I will answer the question (objection?) raised: Does the Bible teach personal responsibility? The giving of the Law presupposes the answer to be, without doubt, “Yes.” To give a law and say this is right and that is wrong, is to say you are personally responsible for doing what is right and abstaining from what is wrong. To show disregard for this truth and to act like our first-parents did in the garden is to invite the wrath of God. A reality disclosed by the apostle Paul in Romans 1:18,
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”2ESV; emphasis added
Notice that though Paul begins with a general reference against all people, he then makes it very specific in identifying it was “by their unrighteousness” and no one else that God’s fearful judgment is weighed in the balance over them.
Not for his sin, but my own…
Here is a lesson that our generation would do well to learn. I am speaking specifically to those in the WOKE movement, adherents of the various “Critical theories” being perpetrated by a misinformed, misguided populace that profess themselves wise, but are anything but.
“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.”Deut 24:16; NASB
We are all personally responsible for our own sin. What my father did, or what my ancestors might have done, is by no means any fault of my own. In the same vein, I am not responsible for what my children do. We are all each personally responsible for how we govern our lives. If I steal or murder or bear false witness or covet or commit adultery against my neighbor, then I, and I alone, am responsible before God. If I fail to worship God alone, or fashion an idol in my heart, or blaspheme my Holy Creator, or refuse to honor my parents as a rightful authority over me, then I, and I alone, am responsible for my sin before God. No one else. I am to receive the just punishment coming, not my children. But, if it is my children who behave in such a way, then the just consequences of their sin will be weighed against them.
In short, I am guilty for my sins against God (primarily) and neighbor (secondarily) and no on else. Or, you are guilty, and no one else. This truth is repeated by the prophets of God at various places (e.g., Jer 31.29-30; Ezek 18.20). The weight of this Law alone clearly demonstrates that we are all personally responsible for how we govern our lives. We bear the guilt of no one else, but our own.
All this foolish talk nowadays about me being guilty because I suffer from “white privilege” or that I should have to pay reparations for the sin of man-stealing (forced slavery, chattel slavery) is a load of hogwash. I did not own slaves. I did not participate in segregation. I am not an ethnic bigot (i.e., racist). I am not guilty for those sins of the past, because I did not commit them. And neither are you guilty for the sins of others.
Some are often confused on this point in Arminian circles regarding Calvinist (Reformed) theology. We are not guilty before God because we bear the guilt of Adam’s sin. We are all guilty because we have all denied God our Maker and sinned against Him. What we receive from Adam is a consequence of his sin, a nature that has suffered loss. A nature, a will, that has been enslaved to sin. But our guilt is not from him, our guilt is from our own reprobate hearts.
And Yes, Jesus did say…
Remember that this whole question was raised because a reader challenged my presupposition that the Bible teaches personal responsibility, and a consequence for failing to govern oneself in light of God’s Word. In essence, the question (which is a good one, I shall not deny it) is did Jesus ever say such a thing? Yes, I believe that Jesus did say this, and He did it on more than one occasion. But since I only need one citation to refute the objection, I will close with one from our Lord.
In John 5, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath at the pool of Bethesda, “…who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years” (John 5.5). After asking if the man would like to be healed, the man confessed that he did but his own efforts for a remedy were to no avail. “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5.6). A little while later, Jesus sees the same man, and he offers the following advice:
“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”John 5:14
Here we may draw an apt inference from this statement. Jesus is pointing out that the man is personally responsible for his own welfare. He is given sound advice on how to avoid something worse end up happening to him (i.e., negative consequence for failing to self-govern). “Sin no more….”
Our sin, for which we all bear personal responsibility, will be judged. In terms of salvation, there is hope, for Christ has paid the sinners debt (ultimate consequence), for all of those who place their trust (faith) in Him alone. His work covers a multitude of sins and sinners. Others, who refuse, will have to face the ultimate consequence for their sin, when they stand before His holiness. While this is true, be careful that you do not draw the erroneous conclusion that your sins—even if they are forgiven in Christ—will bear no negative consequences in this life. Although Christ’s work of redemption does offer forgiveness ultimately in an eternal sense, there is still a temporal sense where we suffer righteous judgments against our sin in this life. I could give you some examples, but if you think hard enough, I’m sure you can come to the answer of how this is the case on your own.
1For the reader, I will add this little note for clarification. Jesus is the marker to which the entire Mosaic system pointed to. Some theologians will speak of the variances found within the Law of God (ceremonial, moral and judicial/penal distinctions). Christ upheld the moral aspects of the Law in His life never sinning. Christ will deliver final judgment in light of the judicial/penal sanctions required by the Law in the end. Christ has become the perfection of which the shadowy ceremonial laws pointed to in His death and resurrection.
Thus, all aspects of the law still hold in the Christian faith. We are required by God to uphold the Decalogue’s requirements, summarized in Loving God and loving neighbor. We receive forgiveness, mercy and newness of life in the true sacrificial Lamb of God, who is our true circumcision by the Spirit’s power putting to death the old man and walking in the new via God’s effective grace. And the penalties associated with the Law in light of covenant keepers and covenant breakers, still hold. These laws, which form our moral basis for living godly (i.e., good) lives have positive and negative sanctions to be applied in this life by God’s ministers in the civil government, and in the life to come at the great white judgment. In this way, all the law is to be upheld.
2The Scripture references shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV), unless otherwise noted.